Education Studies program takes new direction

Elizabeth Carroll was named director of the Education Studies program in July.
Elizabeth Carroll was named director of the Education Studies program in July. Photo by Elizabeth Carroll.

In December 2012, over 100 students signed a petition calling upon then President-Elect Peter Salovey to guarantee the future of Yale’s Education Studies program.

The students were demanding the survival of a program that has faced uncertainty in recent years. Yale terminated its Teacher Preparation Program in 2010, but the Education Studies program persisted as a track for students interested in the academic theories underlying modern education practices. The departure of two of the program’s directors — Jack Gillette GRD ’87 in 2010 and Linda Cole-Taylor in 2012 — prompted concern among students last year that the program would meet a similar fate as the teacher preparation track.

But in July, Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced to the faculty that the Education Studies Advisory Committee had selected Elizabeth Carroll to be the program’s new director, ensuring the program’s continuation for the immediate future. Carroll had come to Yale when she was temporarily hired to teach Cole-Taylor’s spring seminar, “Schools, Community and the Teacher,” in the 2012-’13 academic year.

Carroll earned her doctorate in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and served as a classroom teacher in Boston and the Bronx. She moved to New Haven in the summer of 2012 and was independently studying the city’s public school system when she heard of the job opening at Yale.

“I think [Carroll] is a terrific appointment,” said George Levesque, assistant dean to Yale College who oversees Education Studies. “She has a natural rapport with students, strong administrative skills and a commitment to building relationships across campus with students and faculty who are interested in promoting the study of education.”

With a new director comes a new direction. Carroll said she hopes to create a more streamlined program that brings the many education-related opportunities at Yale under one umbrella.

Under her leadership, students will have the opportunity to become “Education Studies Undergraduate Scholars” by participating in a redesigned application-based program that formalizes the Education Studies track for the first time since the termination of Teacher Preparation.

“I’m glad I’m here tasked with continuing the formation or reformation of Education Studies here on campus,” Carroll said. “I’m just really excited to continue working with students to make it something they want and something that is also a good contribution to Yale College.”

Tom James ’12 spent much of his senior year in a classroom — but not at Yale.

James was the last student to graduate from Yale’s Teacher Preparation Program, a track that enabled students to matriculate as accredited teachers. Through the program, James spent his senior year teaching four classes at Hill Regional Career High School on 140 Legion Ave. James now teaches mathematics at High School in the Community, another local school where he observed classes as an undergraduate. But before James left Yale, the University terminated the teacher preparation program, citing budgetary constraints and waning student interest. 

Administrators allowed James to complete the Teacher Preparation track, and he was the last student to graduate as a certified teacher in 2012.

“Yale’s decision [to cancel the Teacher Preparation program] seems to embrace and affirm the philosophy that teaching does not require any kind of rigorous training,” James wrote in an op-ed for the News on Dec. 1, 2010. “Rather than carefully preparing me for my profession of choice — as it does for my classmates who want to go into medicine, engineering or academia — my University is telling me and the other juniors enrolled in Teacher Prep that we had better figure it out on our own because it sure isn’t worth Yale’s time or money.”

Despite the changes in the University’s program offerings, student demand for education-related courses has remained high. According to the Yale Blue Book website, 62 students are currently shopping John Starr’s 18-person seminar, “Public Schools and Politics,” and the Office of Institutional Research reported that one year after graduation, 18 percent of the class of 2010 was employed in a career in education, up from 11 percent in the class of 2000.

After the cancellation of the Teacher Preparation program, the University continued to offer education courses under the umbrella of “Education Studies,” but the nebulous formulation of the new program prompted many to question its future.

Following the 2012 departure of Cole-Taylor, who succeeded Gillette as director of Education Studies, administrators asserted that the University would not abandon Education Studies.

“We are going to be making some new appointments to continue offering Education Studies,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller told the news after Cole-Taylor’s announcement. “It’s actually a transition rather than a phasing out, making a transition to a non-certification program.”

In the absence of a full-time director, students took the future of Education Studies into their own hands. Grace Lindsey ’15 and Sophia Weissmann ’14 compiled a report last school-year that included survey data and testimonies from current students and alumni in the program that emphasized the importance of having a centralized resource for students interested in education.

Lindsey said talks with the administration soon allayed her and other students’ worst fears about the program. She said she saw that administrators wanted to continue the program, but had not yet decided how best to do so.

Levesque, the assistant dean whose office oversees Education Studies, said the new format will resemble other programs at Yale, such as Energy Studies, Global Health Scholars and Yale Journalism Scholars.

“Like these other new programs, the study of education is highly interdisciplinary, drawing upon research in diverse fields ranging from history and philosophy, to politics and economics, to cognitive science and neurobiology,” Levesque said. “The program provides a structure for bringing together students and faculty who share an interest in the study of education. It also follows the model of these other programs by connecting students to dedicated internship opportunities.”

Carroll said current freshmen and sophomores will be able to apply to the program this year, though she added that the details of the application have not yet been finalized.

Carroll said EDST 190, “Schools, Communities and the Teacher,” and its associated half-credit observation course EDST 192, which brought students into New Haven classrooms, will not be taught this year. Still, she added that she hopes to reintegrate observation into the courses as the program grows.

All students interviewed who had participated in Yale’s Education Studies program agreed that the observational component was a central part of their experience.

“I think the observation component is really important — that’s what got me so invested in education studies,” Weissmann said. “I had worked in schools before, but observing and being told what to pay attention to, and then talking through those observations in seminars was critical, and I hope that opportunity continues to be there for students.”

While Carroll said she hopes to maintain the program’s prior emphasis on practice, she added that she aims to broaden the course offerings to focus on three primary areas — practice, policy and research.

James, the last student who graduated from Yale’s Teacher Preparation Program, cautioned against moving too far in the direction of policy study at the expense of pedagogy.

“Something I feel like I’m realizing going into my second year of teaching is that the education leaders and policymakers who are most respected and whose vision has the most buy-in from the people on the ground are the ones who have done the hard work in the classroom itself,” James said.

Carroll said she is assembling a student advisory committee to help steer Education Studies into the future, adding that she will continue to solicit opinions from alumni on the program moving forward.

Weissmann said she is optimistic about the program’s future under Carroll.

“I do see Education Studies as very much a program that is expanding, [but] it’s not where we want it to be yet, so we’re going to be putting a lot of work into it,” Weissmann said. “Really, my time is ending here, and it is so important to me that this program continues.”

Correction: Sept. 3

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Tom James ’12 spent the majority of his senior year in a classroom, when in fact he would say he spent much of his senior year in a classroom.  The article also mistakenly stated that he taught at High School in the Community as an undergraduate. While he observed classes at High School in the Community during  the observational component of “Schools, Communities, and the Teacher,” he did his senior-year student teaching at Hill Regional Career High School. 

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